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The Young Democratic Socialists of America in Athens are working to forgive medical debt in Athens and in surrounding counties.

Young Democratic Socialists of America in Athens is partnering with non-profit debt collection agency RIP Medical Debt to try to forgive $1.5 million of medical debt in Athens by the end of the fall semester. Every $1 donated will erase $100 of debt.

The Athens-based club, of which many members are University of Georgia students, is hoping to raise $15,000 to reach its goal. YDSA chair Valerie King said the club chose this project after seeking to provide “tangible” results in the community.

“We just don’t want to be a university group – we want to be a group that makes Clarke County better,” King, a senior philosophy and history major, said.

RIP Medical Debt erases medical debt by purchasing old medical debt portfolios in bulk from collection agencies. RIP then partners with third party credit data providers to the locate debt-incurred people and forgive the debt.

To be eligible for RIP’s debt forgiveness, one must earn less than two times the federal poverty level, have debts 5% or more of their annual income or debts that are greater than their total assets.

For a four-person household, the 2019 federal poverty level for Georgia is $25,750. According to 2018 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median income in Athens is $34,258 and 34.4% of the population lives in poverty. The federal poverty level varies by state.

YDSA member Max Rogers said he believes the fundraiser will not only impact Athens-Clarke county but also neighboring counties. According to RIP estimates, in Athens-Clarke County, there is about $577,700 of eligible medical debt, while in Oconee there is about $112,900.

“Our goal is to expand this movement not only in Athens but to help hundreds in debt,” Rogers, a senior microbiology major said.

In case the goal isn’t collected, RIP will instead transfer some of the money that YDSA raises for the Athens area across the country as well.

In August 2019, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents approved a 5.5 to 7.5% increase in health care premiums for UGA employees to begin in 2020. King said the timing of the fundraiser is in part to raise awareness of how the county is affected by medical debt and how the university “exacerbates it.”

As of press time, $1,352.47 has been donated toward YDSA's debt forgiveness campaign.

Rogers said he can think of only a few things worse than going into debt after having the “misfortune” of becoming sick. He encouraged students and Athens residents to join in the movement to forgive debt county-wide.

“We have an amazing opportunity to help so many families in and around Athens avoid that fate,” Rogers said.

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